It was exciting to see Thomas’ email appear in my inbox this fall, as I had remembered the New Zealand native from last year’s running of the film festival. To think that word of this tiny motocross festival had spread that far was motivating. Maybe we’re onto something after all?
It was clear in his previous attempt that Thomas had skills, enough to get him into the showcase at least, but you could tell there was untapped potential just beneath the surface – just cracking his knuckles while warming up. I was happy to have that hunch vindicated when Thomas came around for his second pass. I saw he had realized that potential, and as Thomas’ luck would have it, the judges thought so too.
Thomas was kind enough to talk with some rando on the other side of the world about his film, his influences, and how so many amazing riders come out of New Zealand.
World of Echo: Thomas! What’s good, man?
Thomas Greenaway: Not much, really! I’ve been pretty chill at the moment. I’ve just had an ankle surgery on an old injury, so I’ve been bed bound for a wee bit. Trying to get back into filming now. I’ve got a motocross race this weekend that I’ll probably pop down and film. But yea, nothing much aye. Just living the young life!
Nice. How old are you?
Snap. You really are living the young life!
Yeah! I’m from a place called Dunedin [pronounced Duh-nee-dn], which is notorious for its party scene, and everyone down here just embraces that lifestyle.
How’d you tweak your ankle?
I was at a party and got my foot caught in a hole in the worst way. Twisted my ankle up and tore the tendons all around it. It’s a small surgery really, but it’s kept me on the couch for a few weeks.
It’s always something goofy, isn’t it?
Always. You can’t help it, I suppose.
We’ve been messaging back and forth for a minute now. What does “churr churr” mean?
[laughs] When you say “churr,” it basically means “thanks.” So from a direct translation, “churr churr” would be “thanks thanks,” but it’s really just slang for “thank you” or “no worries.” Stuff like that. My sister’s boyfriend is from California and I stumped him on some slang when he first got here. New Zealand is kind of known for that.
Is it Māori?
Nah, nah. It’s more of a bogan term, bogan being our word for redneck.
I can get down with that. But hey, congrats on your win in the festival! You fought the boys at AstroClub down to the wire and came away with the win. Give me your thoughts on the event. Did you expect to do so well this year?
I had some high hopes coming into it, for sure. In 2021 I entered the festival pretty last-minute. I had just popped into a race near home, hadn’t filmed motocross for ages, and figured I’d just slap together a wee edit from there. I didn’t really put too much effort into my entry last year, so this year I thought I’d give it a good nudge and make a proper film.
I really felt like I couldn’t have made a better film at the time that I made REPEAT, and that was most important to me. I know there’s moto guys out there than can make some sick edits, so if someone were to beat me, then so be it, but I know I put my best effort into it. The boys at AstroClub definitely had me nervous. I can remember watching their entry and knowing it wasn’t going to be easy to come away with the win. Ezra [Holmes] told me that himself. “Those guys are GOAT’ed,” he said. [laughs] We were stoked to win.
You alluded to this a bit in your answer, but did your inclusion in the festival last year encourage you to come back with something better in 2022?
For sure, for sure. Last year I was with one of my mates when I found out I got in – and you could ask them – I was so, so happy just to be featured. That was the first time one of my films had gotten into anything. It was the first time I was recognized for my abilities. I understand it was only the first year for the festival, and maybe you were still tweaking things and figuring how you felt about it for yourself, but to be included meant the world to me. This year I wanted to win, so I gave it my all.
You mentioned earlier in your phrasing that “the moto guys” put out some great films. Do you not consider yourself a “motocross” filmmaker? I understand you film some hunting as well?
I’d say I was at some point a “moto” filmmaker, that’s really how I cut my teeth and learned proper use of a camera, but I’ve swayed away from it over the last two years. The only things I’ve filmed in moto since then were the videos I’ve made for the festival.
Hunting has a much broader reach where I live than motocross, so I’ve had more opportunities to get out in the hunting world than I have in the moto world. I still feel comfortable filming moto, and I will always love it because that’s what I grew up on, but I want to keep my options open and not pigeonhole myself.
Could you expand on what the New Zealand motocross scene is like? Despite being so separated from the major motocross markets of America and Europe, there seems to be a number of high-profile riders who come out of NZ: Ben Townley, Cody Cooper, Courtney Duncan, and Josh Coppins to name a few. There seem to be more waiting in the wings as well. Where is this talent coming from and how is it cultivated?
That’s a weird one, aye? I’m not particularly familiar with how Ben Townley came up, but I’m aware of what’s done. Same thing with Cody and Josh. I could tell you thought that those guys probably did the same thing that young kids out here are doing now, and that’s racing every weekend on the farmlands down south. (Our series is in fact called “The Southern Series” for that very reason.) Farmers rip up their land, build a few jumps on it, then invite people to come out and race. It gets gnarly, too! The courses are not manicured by any means and become rough as guts.
As I mentioned, I’m not familiar with the others, but Courtney lived 40 minutes up the road from me, and I can tell you that almost every weekend she was on the farms racing against the boys and beating them silly. She’s just so determined, and I reckon that’s how everyone who’s found success outside of New Zealand did it. They just wanted it more than everyone else.
When did you start speaking with Ezra [Holmes] about making this documentary? You’ve known each other for some time now.
I’ve known Ezra since I was 14, so he would’ve been 12 at the time.
I had an idea of making this documentary with a few different people in mind, but Ezra really stood out to me because I’ve seen his work ethic firsthand for a number of years now. He’s been doing what he does in the video for as long as I’ve known him. I spoke with him a few weeks after the festival was announced, and I think I kind of cat-fished him a bit into thinking this would be a small little edit. Once he got to my house we discussed the scope of what I was looking to do, and thankfully he didn’t back away from the commitment! I knew then that we’d be able to make something good.
To make a great film, the people on both sides of the lens need to be committed. The whole thing took us about 3 weeks to complete.
In the film Ezra didn’t seem all too impressed with his peers while training in America. Do you know where he went and how long he stayed for?
He was at MTF for a month, I think, but it wasn’t that he was unimpressed with the facilities or the rider’s abilities, he just found that he has to work harder when he’s at home from the added responsibility of his job. He knows the guys that ride there are rippers, and he learned so much from the coaches and trainers. Those guys are on another level, really. He wanted to go and see it for himself, and he was very impressed. He soaked up his experience like a sponge and took that learning with him back to New Zealand. He’s a much better rider because of it. I don’t know of anyone at MTF up milking cows at 4:00 AM, though!
Do you feel lucky being from New Zealand? From both the judges’ and audience’s response, it seemed unanimous that the riding down there looks unreal. Are you spoiled with epic spots to ride?
I think we are, definitely. New Zealand is a pretty cool country in that aspect. There were a number of tracks that we could’ve filmed at that I felt would be more than adequate backdrops for riding.
To be honest, I had a completely different track in mind for the film that we would’ve went to at dusk, but once Ezra sent me photos of Craig Ellis’ track, I thought, “Oh my god, this is it.” That was my first time at that track, and it was 10 minutes from my house.
Focusing in on yourself, I’m curious what works might’ve influenced your creative decisions while producing REPEAT. Any particular filmmakers or videos that caught your eye during the production process?
Back in the early days I always looked towards Tom Journet when making my own videos, because I think he’s got the most amazing rhythm within his edits, and that’s something I’ve tried to replicate in all of my work, even today. I was also very inspired by Alan Perreard’s last film, Keep Rolling. I thought it was epic.
I do draw a lot of inspiration from traditional filmmaking as well. I’m fond of Damien Chazelle’s work on La La Land, and I was enamored with how he wrapped that film up, and I used that as inspiration for the ending of REPEAT. I find that he is very proficient at tying up his films visually in a way that words can’t.
Did REPEAT challenge you in any way? Did you walk away with new knowledge, or perhaps a different perspective on the way that you film?
I thought it was a perfect film, until my girlfriend pointed out a typo I made in one of the text lines. [laughs] I can’t escape that now.
I did learn a lot making this film, yeah, but my biggest takeaway was the confidence I gained upon completing it, because after I was done I knew I could accomplish something to a standard that I was truly happy with. I’m not sure I could say that before I had finished REPEAT, but now that it’s in the rearview I feel confident I can continue making quality projects going forward. Might have another piece coming your way next year!
The problem now is you’ll now have to be a judge in 2023! Since you won and all…
Oh, true! [laughs] There we go! I’ll have to encourage some other kiwi’s to get after it. There are some good moto filmmakers coming up in New Zealand right now that would be stoked to get in the showcase.
Bring them on out! Anything else you’d like to add?
Not much man! Thank you. I’m just stoked to be interviewed right now, to be honest. [laughs] Exciting stuff.